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Patience defines Miller's Kentucky career

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Darius Miller will play his final home game as a Wildcat on Thursday against Georgia. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Darius Miller will play his final home game as a Wildcat on Thursday against Georgia. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
He never saw transferring a real possibility, but there were certainly moments Darius Miller wondered what he had gotten himself into during his freshman season.

Spending his first year at Kentucky under then-head coach Billy Gillispie, the Maysville, Ky., native found himself in an irregular role on an underachieving team.

As the team fell short of an NCAA Tournament berth, ending a 17-year streak, Miller would play over 30 minutes one game, then barely 10 the next. Even so, he persisted.

"It was rough for I think everybody on the team but we stuck with it," Miller said. "Everybody stuck with it throughout the first year and it ended up being great for us."

Great indeed.

Miller's patience paid off in the form of 92 wins over three seasons and a Final Four berth. With John Calipari at the helm, UK has evolved into a powerhouse. Miller has played alongside nine current NBA players since Calipari arrived in Lexington and spent the majority of that time on teams ranked in the top five nationally.

Ever the deferential teammate, Miller won't talk much about it, but the fact remains that the lone holdover from that 2008-09 team has had one of the most unique careers of any UK player. He has played in all 141 of UK's games the last four years and ranks in the top 50 in school history in points, assists, steals, blocks, free-throw percentage, 3-pointers and 3-point percentage.

The statistics are nice and all, but as Miller prepares to suit up for his final game in Rupp Arena alongside fellow senior Eloy Vargas, it's the relationships that really count.

"I can imagine it will be emotional for me," Miller said, though he ruled out crying as a possibility. "I've been here for a while, had a lot of good memories and met a lot great people, great coaching staff so I can imagine it will be emotional for me."

Miller will participate in the traditional Senior Night festivities before No. 1 UK (28-1, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) takes on Georgia (13-15, 4-10 SEC) Thursday at 9 p.m. in Rupp Arena, but there was a brief moment when it looked like there was a chance the moment wouldn't come.

When he was hired, Calipari was tasked with making over an NIT team in short order. The roster for his sophomore season was in a state of flux and Miller wasn't even sure if he would return.

"I think all of us were, the guys that were here and the guys that planned on staying," Miller said. "I think we were all worried about what was going to happen."

Those concerns were quickly allayed when Calipari watched the 6-foot-8 guard/forward play for the first time.

"When I first got here, of all the players that I watched, and this is before any of the freshman class came in, he had a better feel for the dribble drive than anybody there and I was pleasantly surprised," Calipari said.

All of a sudden, Miller was projected as a breakout performer. That idea was only reinforced when he was unveiled as a starter alongside John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins, but Miller wasn't an instant star. He had some big games, including a 20-point outburst in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but he ended up playing just 21.2 minutes per game, identical to his freshman average.

After the other four starters from the 2009-10 departed for the NBA along with Daniel Orton, it was clear Miller would need to step up for the Wildcats to match the previous year's success. Early on, Miller's inconsistency matched that of his team, but when the switch flipped on for Miller, the team surged. He would score in double figures in all but three games as UK won 12 times in 14 tries to advance to the school's first Final Four since 1998.

Surrounded by players ranging from Wall to Brandon Knight to Anthony Davis who made substantial impacts at the start of their collegiate careers, Miller's more measured development has been frustrating to some, including his coach. As his career has drawn to a close, Calipari has come to appreciate Miller.

"All these kids are on different timetables," Calipari said. "Just because a young man stays three years, four years doesn't mean well the guy that's one or two years (is better)."

In past years, opposing coaches might not have even noticed Miller on the floor next his dynamic teammates. Now, they can't help but sing his praises.

"I always just see him doing whatever he has to do to help his team win," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said.

"Darius Miller is the fiber that holds that team together," Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said.

Miller has been repeatedly referred to as the "glue guy" on a team that has been occupied the top spot in the rankings for six straight weeks, a notion Calipari supports.

"He completes everybody," Calipari said. "He's not competing, he's completing. If he needs to rebound, defend (he will). He plays some guard, he plays some four. Whatever position we ask him, he just completes. He completes everybody."

Essentially, the things that made people wonder whether Miller would live up to his potential are what make him great now. He's willing to do whatever it takes to win, whether it means coming off the bench, deferring to his teammates or asserting himself in the clutch, which is what he's taken to doing of late.

In recent close games against Vanderbilt (twice) and Mississippi State, Miller has been quiet for the majority of the game only to come to life in the final minutes to lead his team to victory. The Wildcats trailed late in each of those games only for Miller to dominate late. He tallied a combined 26 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 28:30 of clutch time in those three games.

Unsurprisingly, Miller points to anyone but himself when describing why UK has fared so well in close games.

"I feel like the whole team does a great job of focusing in on the end of the game and trying to make big plays for us to win," Miller said. "We all focus on the same thing, which is winning, and I think we do a great job when it's crunch time."

With his level of play and his unselfish approach, Calipari believes Miller has played his way into an NBA future. Miller is happy with what he's been doing on the floor of late, but he has a more immediate goal in mind.

"I feel like I'm playing the way I need to play," Miller said. "Coach Cal has supported me the whole time and so have my teammates. We're all focused on one thing and that's winning a national championship no matter what the roles are."

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1 Comment

darius you are an amazing player to watch ive been a kentucky fan since i was six and watchin this team and you finish games off is a thing of beauty the 96 team was loaded with talent like this one but i guess the memories has faded go get #8

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  • greg : darius you are an amazing player to watch ive been a kentucky fan since i was six and watchin this read more